China and Russia, along with Iran, have long been considered leading countries which spy on the United States. Russian President Vladimir Putin, a former KGB agent, has overseen the re-emergence of the Russian security apparatus and promoted Cold War intelligence successes against the West. U.S. National Counterintelligence Executive Joel Brenner cited China earlier this year as among countries who seek civilian and military advantage by spying on the United States. "The Chinese are leveraging the American R&D (research and development) budget ... in support of their own war-fighting capability," Brenner said in a March speech to the American Bar Association.
Democratic lawmakers last month helped pass temporary legislation expanding federal authority to eavesdrop on foreign conversations. But many are wary of granting permanent authority without more restrictions to protect against broad eavesdropping on Americans' international calls. They say U.S. President George W. Bush abused his trust by creating and not properly informing the U.S. Congress of a program of warrantless eavesdropping of international communications by people in the United States with suspected foreign enemies. "The power to invade people's privacy cannot be exercised unchecked," New York Democratic Rep. Jerrold Nadler said at the hearing. The eavesdropping program was put under court supervision earlier this year, and in August Congress passed six-month authority for the eavesdropping to continue. McConnell said that no Americans had been targeted for warrantless eavesdropping since he took over the job in February. He also said the government's ability to collect foreign intelligence had declined this year until the temporary surveillance expansion was passed, but had since rebounded. Highlighting his call for the new powers, Bush is to visit on Wednesday the National Security Agency, which carries out electronic surveillance. The White House issued a fact sheet arguing that the rights of Americans would not be compromised by the legislation.
"The intelligence community needs all the appropriate tools," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said.